Whether playing for fun or exercise, basketball is the urban sport of choice. With several outdoor courts, Hoboken is one of the cities in the Garden State that is well known for its street basketball talent.
"A kid out here grows up near the court, so he has to learn how to play," said John Madigan, a lifelong Hoboken resident and one of the city's former scholastic standouts. "Kids play for fun. The game has changed a little. There's more one-on-one nowadays, but the game is still about winning and competing."
This summer, Madigan conducted a youth basketball program with clinics at the Wallace School at 11th Street and Willow Avenue. With more than a dozen sessions, pre-adolescent boys worked out in the gymnasium and learned basketball fundamentals from Madigan and assistant Angela Zampella, a Jersey City basketball standout. Zampella is currently trying out for professional leagues in Europe.
"We teach them defense, defense, and defense. When they are not playing defense, we focus on protecting the ball," Zampella said.
Jaime Rosa, 12, said the clinics help him with his defense and to play aggressively.
"I come here to have fun. I play with my friends. This year I'm trying out for the school's team," Rosa said.
Rosa lives in Hoboken, and enjoys playing outdoors at several courts in the city.
Carmelo Garcia, the city's Department of Recreation director, gave Madigan the green light for the summer clinics and is putting together the final touches on a fall/winter league for kids.
"Basketball keeps the boys busy," Garcia said. "They come and play and stay out of trouble. It truly brings people together. Madigan knows the kids and they learn how to improve their skills."
In the gym, Madigan teaches passing, defense, dribbling, and playing without the ball. However, he admits that once the children go to the playgrounds, the games become less friendly and organized.
"Here [at Wallace School], we call fouls and they know they have boundaries. At the playground the kids don't have adult supervision. Then it is up to them to apply the skills they learned," he said.
Action at Church Square Park
Most of the participants at Madigan's clinics said they go to Church Square Park on Garden Street between Fourth and Fifth streets to play pick-up games. In addition to a competitive amateur summer basketball league, the park is the city's centerpiece for active and intense pick up games. The city's best ballers make their way to the asphalt courts, and residents from neighboring towns frequent it to showcase their skills.
"We bring the rock, lace up, and throw down on anybody," said Jose Reyes, a 15-year-old Guttenberg resident. "I got friends here [Hoboken] and when me and my boys show up, we ball. We ball for like three to four games. Depends on the comp."
And often times, the competition is tight. The diversity at the court is what makes Church Square Park unique and separates it from the rest. Both men and women, young and old, play ball regularly during the warm-weather months of the year.
"I live a couple blocks away and I like to play," said John Burgersson, 31.
Burgersson, a financial planner in Manhattan, said he played high school basketball in his home state of Ohio, and plays the sport to keep in shape.
"I know it can get competitive sometimes, but that's what makes it fun. I get a good workout, I play with my friends, and we always run into other guys who can hold their own."
Church Square Park may be the basketball court of choice is town, but Hobokenites also shoot hoops at the courts on Third and Jackson streets, and at Elysian Park on Hudson and Tenth streets. Indoor courts include the Hoboken High School gymnasium and the gym at A.J. Demarest Middle School on Fourth and Garden streets, according to Garcia.
"We offer basketball programs throughout the year. It keeps our kids safe, and promotes teamwork among residents," Garcia said.
Michael Bednar plays at Elysian Park when the weather is warm. An uptown Hoboken resident, Bednar, 29, plays to have fun and relax. He has lived in town for almost a year, and basketball is one of his outlets for stress.
"It's a hobby for me. Some people see basketball as a way of life. Not me; I use it to relax and clear my mind. I love watching the games on TV," Bednar said. "I'm from Boston so I like the Celtics, but the [New Jersey] Nets aren't that bad."
Madigan said he is content with the clinic's turnout. He hopes that with the support of the city, he can continue educating Hoboken's youth on recreational manners, basketball basics, and positive sportsmanship.
"I would like to know that what we teach them here they will apply at the outdoor playgrounds," Madigan said.
For information on basketball leagues in Hoboken call (201) 420-2094.